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Jennifer Layke
Global Energy Program Director, World Resources Institute

COVID-19 has resulted in immense loss of life, and has caused unprecedented damage to global economies: the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on jobs has been 10 times bigger than that of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis.Young people, women, and lowincome households have been disproportionately affected by the
economic stress of the pandemic. Governments around the world are scrambling to stem the crisis: it’s estimated that
$9 trillion USD has been spent globally on fiscal emergency response measures.

Some of these will have a long-term influence; however, only a handful of governments have announced intentions to implement plans beyond immediate economic relief. As countries spend money to recover – and to get people back to work – they have an opportunity to break free from investing in fossil fuel-driven growth, which threatens human health and exacerbates in equality. Instead, they can stabilize financial markets and economies by building back better. Countries can take advantage of lowcarbon investment opportunities to reduce GHG emissions and air pollution while rebooting economies. Additionally, and importantly, building back better entails putting people at the heart of recovery plans, especially those who are currently most vulnerable; creating more jobs while pulling people out of poverty; and building resilience to future crises.

This is where the energy sector comes in. Energy has played a critical role in the response to COVID-19.

In places where there is reliable energy, essential items continue to be delivered, hospitals have been able to provide care, and millions of people have been able to work and study from home while maintaining social contact online. We already know that transforming the energy system and investing in renewable energy and energy efficient buildings is imperative to meeting climate targets and keeping the planet cool. We also know that before the pandemic, jobs in the clean energy sector – particularly in energy efficiency – were growing fast. Emissions would have been 60% higher without 40 years of investment in energy efficiency, and consumers would be paying $800 billion more per year in energy costs. Here are just a few ways energy efficiency programs can help contribute to building back better, according to the IEA’s Sustainable Recovery Plan:

Growing economies: Energy efficiency investments have the potential to increase global economic growth by 1.1% each year, raising the global GDP 3.5% higher in 2023 than it would be otherwise.

Creating jobs: Building back better could save or create nine million jobs per year, with the largest number of new jobs in energy efficiency (35%) and another 25% in power systems, particularly in wind, solar, and electricity grid modernization. Many of these new jobs would be specialized and technical, requiring training programs.

Building more resilient and cleaner energy systems: According to the IEA, if governments choose to build back better by investing in efficiency and renewables, annual energy-related GHG emissions will be 4.5 billion tons lower in 2023 than they would be otherwise.

2019 would be the definitive peak in global emissions, with energy efficiency measures delivering the largest overall emissions reductions. Long-term investment in the global energy sector makes countries more resilient to future
crises. Now is a critical moment for governments to build back better and secure the future of their energy systems, the livelihoods of their citizens, and the stability of their economies.

Jennifer Layke
Global Energy Program Director, World Resources Institute